Court rejects appeal by travel firm found liable for fatal bus crash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2007, 12:00am

The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by a travel agency found liable for a bus crash in Taiwan three years ago in which five tourists from Hong Kong were killed.

Kwan Kin Travel Services had appealed against a February ruling by deputy High Court judge Peter Longley that the company had failed in its duty of care to its clients injured in the October 18, 2004, crash. Mr Justice Longley had ordered Kwan Kin to pay HK$814,000 to Victor Chea Kam-wing, who suffered multiple injuries and said he still had lower back pain.

The case was seen as a test of whether Kwan Kin could be held liable for the deaths or the injuries suffered by 29 others when their bus plunged off a mountain road.

Several more claims against Kwan Kin and another agency have since been lodged.

Mr Chea, 41, alleged Kwan Kin was responsible for the actions of the people conducting the tour on its behalf. Bus driver Hsu Chung-hsing was sentenced to four years and two months in jail after being found guilty of drink-driving and endangering public safety. He had consumed a bottle of 52 per cent alcohol before picking up the tour group in Jioufen.

'The coach driver was a man who had two drink-driving convictions in the recent past,' Judge Longley said. 'He was clearly unsuitable to be entrusted with the task of driving the coach.'

Kenneth Kwok Hing-wai SC, for Kwan Kin, told the Court of Appeal - comprising vice-president Mr Justice Anthony Rogers, Mrs Justice Doreen Le Pichon and Mr Justice William Stone - that Mr Justice Longley had erred about the company's liability.

He said the tour was arranged by Kwan Kin on behalf of its clients; the tour was not provided by the company but by another travel service in Taiwan. 'If we are arranging a tour ... we don't have the duty to see to it that the services are provided with reasonable care,' Mr Kwok said.

He agreed with a suggestion by Mr Justice Stone that he was saying Kwan Kin's duty to its clients ended once it had engaged a reputable contractor to provide the services listed in the itinerary and that the company could not be held responsible for the fact that the contractor had hired a drunk man to drive the group's bus.

While the court has yet to give its reasons for dismissing the appeal, the claim that Kwan Kin had nothing to do with organising the Taiwan side of the trip would seem at odds with Mr Justice Longley's finding that there was 'overwhelming' evidence it was the tour's organiser and provider. The group was accompanied throughout by a uniformed employee of Kwan Kin and all the trip's contractual documents bore Kwan Kin's logo.